Facility Profile - October 2008
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Telling the Story

Killbear Provincial Park in Nobel, Ontario

By Shay Bapple


itting the picturesque setting of Killbear Provincial Park into a small building would seem like a tall order for anyone to achieve. The creation of the park's new visitor center has managed to bring to life the essence of the park's ecology and history, packed into a facility that leads by example with its sustainably and blending within its surroundings.

The goal behind building the visitor center was not only to educate those passing through park on its rich natural resources and its noteworthy historical achievements, but also to create a center that would not tax the land it was built on and give visitors an experience that made them feel part of land as they walked through. This was something that HOK lead project designer Gordon Stratford was aiming for when he created the design for the building.

"We brought building planning, landscaping and interior design members together to look at the story that the client was trying to tell," said Stratford. "That story and history is inside and outside the building."

According to Stratford, being inside the building gives the feeling of being in the park itself, with its wide open views over Georgian Bay and its surrounding areas. The parking lot was intentionally kept away from the center, and the way the building is situated gives visitors the most optimal vantage point, looking out over the water, trees and unique lichen-covered rock formations. The building was designed so that visitors could make a connection between the exhibits inside with what they see on the outside.

"The building is very linear as we tried to retain the rock formations and the landscape," Stratford said. "We wanted to tell a story about the landscape without destroying it."

The park's visitor center is also a perfect fit for sustainability. This aspect keeps in line with preserving the environment and not taxing it for more energy than it already provides. Bioswales were built to preserve run-off water from the building and parking lot. This allows for natural water recycling and bypasses the use of treatment facilities that normally have negative impact on the land.

The facility also takes advantage of a geothermal loop that controls all HVAC functions. Polyethylene coils were placed in Georgian Bay and then run through the ground then into the building to take advantage of temperature cycle changes in the water. Warm air from the water is transferred into the building from the coils through a heat pump during colder periods, and cool air extracted from cooler water temps can be introduced into the building during the summer.

To top the green aspect of the building off, the materials used in construction are not only eco-friendly, but also appealing to the eye. The decision was made to use zinc because of its renewability aspect.

"Using zinc to build the exterior works well because it is weather-tight and protects the interior," said Stratford. "It works well with fitting into the landscape, and it is colorful."